Asbestosis Prognosis & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
In this lesson, we're going to briefly describe a condition known as asbestosis. Then you'll learn about its treatment options as well as the potential prognoses for this condition.

Asbestosis

Do you have a tile wall somewhere in your home? Maybe a tile floor? Look at it, if you do, or find a picture of one. Each tile is like a cell or group of cells in a lung. And those spaces between each tile are like the spaces between the cells in the lungs. The space between cells in a tissue is known as the interstitium.

When the interstitium of the lungs become scarred, we call this interstitial pulmonary (lung) fibrosis (scarring). Interstitial fibrosis of the lung can be caused by the (usually) long term inhalation of asbestos fibers in, most often, an occupational setting. This scenario is called asbestosis. Asbestos, by the way, is a word for a collection of fibrous and heat resistant silicate minerals.

Let's go over this condition's treatment and prognosis.

Treatment

There is no cure for asbestosis. Why? Well, let's go back to that introduction. Remember that asbestosis leads to scarring of the lungs. While a scar may be a good thing on the skin in terms of serving a protective function on your skin, it's anything but for the lungs. In terms of what the lungs are actually supposed to do, scar tissue is completely useless organic matter. In fact, it's counterproductive! It can make breathing and oxygenation more difficult.

So the best thing that can be done is to stop the person's exposure to asbestos. If a person smokes, they should be advised to stop, as asbestosis on its own may lead to lung cancer and smoking will only make it more likely.

Other potential treatment options are aimed at supportive care, minimizing the progression of the disease, or preventative care to minimize the risk of complications of asbestosis. These treatment options include:

  • Oxygen supplementation
  • Lung transplantation
  • Antimicrobial therapy for any secondary respiratory infections
  • Vaccination against the flu and bacteria that might cause pneumonia
  • Breathing exercises

Normal lungs vs. those affected by asbestosis.
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Prognosis

The prognosis of asbestosis is highly varied and is hard to predict. In fact, even if a person's exposure to asbestos is stopped, the disease may progress anyways. So the prognosis really depends on how much asbestos exposure has occurred and over what period of time.

In mild cases, a person may have few, if any, signs and symptoms and can do well for a very long time (many years) so long as they don't develop complications such as infections, respiratory failure, or cancer.

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